- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

Duke's sacred basketball program is in trouble with the NCAA snoops.

Corey Maggette, who agreed to a layover in Durham, N.C., before going to the NBA, has admitted to accepting cash payments from a summer league coach while he was a high school student. So now the Blue Devils' runner-up finish in the 1999 NCAA tournament is in jeopardy, along with $200,000 in revenue.

In the bizarre world according to the NCAA, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants are somehow responsible for Maggette's actions before he became an indentured servant at the university for all of one year.

This hardly makes sense, but at least the NCAA is consistent.

The NCAA snoops put Erick Barkley under the microscope last season. You would have thought the point guard was Charles Manson.

The snoops also sifted through Jamal Crawford's background, finding fault with his unusual living arrangement before he landed in Michigan.

The NCAA justifies its assault on people's privacy by dispensing the notion that it is preserving the sanctity of the game. If preserving the sanctity of the game requires peeking into people's closets, then the devotion to the game is out of whack.

No purpose is served from the revelation that Maggette accepted a stipend before his enrollment at Duke. Maybe he needed the cash to meet his living expenses. It's not as if he had the time to work a summer job.

His job was playing basketball. He had to be on the right AAU team. He had to play in the right tournaments. He had to attend the right camps. He had to get as much exposure as possible before college coaches. They were his conduit to the NBA.

That is how the game is played in the summer, and the NCAA is kidding itself if it believes all the athletes are financially solvent.

The NCAA snoops want to have it both ways. They want to cling to their silly amateur ideals while counting their television money. They talk of sports building character and providing opportunities to adolescents who otherwise would not have the chance to attend an elite university.

Then they pretend to be shocked after it is discovered that one of these underprivileged athletes had a benefactor in his life before he fell under the NCAA umbrella.

They not only act indignant on these occasions, but they then punish the university, as if the university should be in the business of conducting background checks as thorough as the CIA's.

This is college basketball, isn't it? Or is America's national security at stake?

The NCAA snoops prefer to believe in magic. Each summer, magically, the nation's top high school basketball players, many from modest circumstances, travel across the country in the hope of securing an athletic scholarship. Apparently, the airlines, the hotel industry and fast-food chains award these players a free pass.

It has become fashionable to lament the influence of summer league coaches and place them all in the same sleazy pigeonhole. This spin fits the purposes of the NCAA and the all-controlling men who dance on the sidelines for the television cameras.

But, really, who is more twisted, the NCAA system that harassed Barkley and his family last season or the summer league coach who slips a couple of Benjamins to an impoverished athlete?

The NCAA's absurd business with Duke demonstrates yet again just how wrong the system is.

If there is a college basketball program with the gold seal of approval, it is Duke's.

Yet now even Krzyzewski and Duke are tainted, guilty of not being able to read Maggette's mind.

Maggette received financial assistance in exchange for his basketball ability, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Youths routinely make similar exchanges each summer. They call it a summer job.

Maggette did his job on the basketball court, and it worked out extremely well for him, Duke and even the NCAA.

Duke and the NCAA made money off Maggette.

The problem is that Maggette made a little money for himself on the side before he joined the craziness.

How American on his part.

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